Since the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) was launched in 2009, the United States has become passive in dealing with human rights issues in Central Asia (CA.) The U.S. is likely doing so to maintain relationships with Central Asian governments whose support it needs, but this is no excuse. The U.S. should continue its focus on human rights issues and discuss them with the Central Asian governments, rather than keeping silence about them. In the long term, neglecting the human rights abuses will decrease citizens awareness of their rights and trust in democratic values resulting with the destabilization in the region.
Before the NDN, the U.S. did the right thing regarding human rights, but since then America has sometimes failed to act. After the U.S. continuously demanded an independent international investigation of the alleged killing of unarmed civilians and others during the violent disturbances in Andijon city in 2005, and expressed its firm stance many times, for example by Senator McCain’s visit to the country two weeks after these events, the Uzbek government withdrew the U.S. base K-2 from its territory by the end of that year. Nevertheless, the U.S. continued demanding for the respect of human rights in Uzbekistan, where government systematically imprisons journalists and human rights activists until the launch of NDN. Following at least 14 human rights defenders, currently being held on politically motivated charges, the Uzbek government had recently convicted the Voice of America correspondent on charges of criminal defamation, insult, and preparing or distributing materials that threaten public security and order.
Building democracy in Afghanistan while ignoring poor human rights records in neighboring countries with is contradictory and waste of efforts for America. Some sources say there are up to about 8,000 religious prisoners in Uzbekistan. Due to harsh economic, political situation and religious pressure in this country, people flee persecution and join terrorist groups located in Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Islamic Jihad Union (IJU.) In late 2007 and mid-2008 over a dozen people were arrested European Union (EU) countries on suspicion of preparing attacks against American military infrastructure with the involvement of IMU and IJU of Central Asian origins. In another report, CBS News cited two US military officials as saying that Al Qaeda and Taliban-associated groups were recruiting in CA, because there was one big advantage to recruiting in there–less focus by the U.S. The officials noted hundreds of cases of successful recruiting of Central Asian boys too. Allegedly, many of these boys are either children and siblings of the religious convicts in Uzbekistan.
America’s timely reaction to the human rights abuses is crucial. In June 2010, the ethnic violence exploded between Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Hundreds of people, mostly Uzbeks died, were raped, several hundred thousands were dislocated, their houses were burned; over 25,000 Uzbeks immigrated to Russia due to threat from Kyrgyz nationalists. Many observers saw Russian traces in the clashes assuming that it was an attempt return it previous influence by destabilizing these post-Soviet countries; still, Russia did not send its peacekeepers. The international community’s limited with some humanitarian aid; UN Security Council remained quite due to the silence of the U.S. and EU. America’s silence in this situation was driven by the military interest–the U.S. base Manas located in Kyrgyzstan is the main deploying point to Afghanistan; pressure on the Kyrgyz governing regime would result with the negative effects. Although Kyrgyz authorities claim the order had been restored, Uzbeks were systematically harassed by the Kyrgyz nationalists and law enforcement agencies, while the government reluctantly implemented international investigation, accusing and jailing Uzbeks in the country. As a result, Uzbeks men, who had fled Kyrgyzstan during the June event and joined military camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking for support and military training, are returning for revenge in less than two months. By the end of September 2010, Kyrgyz government located its military forces on its borders, reportedly to fight 3,000 returning Uzbeks accompanied with Islamic militants.
Sacrificing human rights for the U.S. in the short run given any goals, even NDN, is not acceptable. While Soviets were busy fighting Mujahideen forces during its Afghan invasion, children of Afghan refugees were raising as a generation of Taliban in neighboring Pakistan. Having countries, neighboring with Afghanistan, where governments had developed policy of systematic human rights abuse should raise concern of the current U.S. administration. Pushing harder with these governments may cause difficulties in a short-term; however, neglecting human rights issues may result with the catastrophic waste of funds, time and lives.